Done well, the development of C-1 (the layer of talent one level below C-suite) can be a real source of competitive advantage to an organization, yet it’s too often neglected. Alistair Milner, Partner and Tina Orlando, SRI Associate, dig into the benefits of development programmes for your C-1 talent.
Retention: Your biggest flight risks are often your future leaders. The wait for the C-Suite can be a long one, and often people at this level of an organization are feel they need to leave to progress their careers as they feel like they’ve stalled or are just treading water. Keeping this cohort engaged, intellectually challenged, and stretched – exploring different roles, new skills, and plugging experience gaps – can be a great way of progressing competencies and enabling on-going learning while maintaining productivity.
Feeling valued and ‘backed’ by an organization is hugely underestimated as a key retention strategy. It builds goodwill, fosters loyalty, and unlocks a level of discretionary effort (contribution over-and-above meeting performance objectives) that contributes to optimum performance across the organization. In these situations, there are multiple value-adding options that can be explored on the part of both the individual and the company that we’ll look at below.
Value Proposition: Having a dedicated programme in place for future leaders is a compelling element in your employee value proposition. Don’t underestimate how attractive access to such a programme is to potential joiners, especially those who aspire to leadership positions.
Super Charging: By investing in the direct reports of the C-Suite, you are super-charging what is often the delivery mechanism of the organization. If the people who operationalize your strategy are already performing at an ‘executive team in-waiting’ level, you’ve got a higher chance of achieving your business plan. You’ve also got to consider the value of promoting individuals with existing institutional knowledge, relationships that span the organization, and an understanding of ‘how the place works beyond the org-chart’. It’s powerful! This isn’t about sourcing all leadership appointments internally – the impact of fresh eyes and a different way of thinking can, of course, be game-changing – but there’s only so many of those you can place at once without the risk of destabilizing the effective running of an organization.
Succession One of the biggest benefits to this kind of investment is that your home-grown talent will be strong enough to compete for roles at the C-Suite level, and if successful, they can hit the ground running as soon as they are appointed because they are really ready. There’s less learning on-the-job, faster delivery, and a lower rate of failure. Who wouldn’t want that when finding yourself in the spotlight of a new C-Suite role?!
A strong internal bench also means you have a deeper and more diverse talent pool from which to draw based on the organization’s requirements. That puts you in a better position to ride out shocks, unexpected events, and internal/external crises – all of which may prompt swift, un-planned changes at senior levels. Having qualified leaders waiting in the wings makes you more resilient and ready to deliver business as usual. Acknowledging that external appointments come with a risk of organic rejection and sometimes lack of ‘fit’, having a strong internal feeder pool puts you in a more competitive position from a talent management perspective and significantly reduces the risk of failure. It’s all about future-proofing.
Culture Captains: How many times have we heard that culture comes from the top? Yet the further through an organization you go, the further away people get from having contact with ‘the top’. C-1 often has a broad reach and multiple touchpoints across the entity to turbo-charge the cascade and experience of cultural values and behaviours critical to solidifying organizational culture. In the work we have done with future leaders, they often nail the culture piece far quicker and more effectively than the top team.
Reputation: Leadership stability and consistency is an indicator of strong governance and a well-run organization, which is important for multiple stakeholders. Markets, institutional investors, lenders, and analysts will all have an eye on succession and not just for the top job. How many times do we say that your most effective marketing investment can be your people! An engaged cohort of C-1 become ambassadors for your organization and strong promotors of the company from a recruitment and retention perspective. They serve as mentors, role models, and inspiration for emerging and first level leaders coming through the system after them, quelling doubts about whether or not it’s worth sticking around.
In conclusion, nurturing your C-1 talent has multiple benefits for them and for your organization. Focusing time and resources on this group has the potential to reap exponential rewards.